A Squared Plus B Squared is Half a Million

It was an odd phone call. I was told by our VP for advancement (i.e. the guy who raises money) to call a certain Dr. Moyd regarding a math problem. A few hours later I was at the good surgeon's country estate looking at a swath of ugly mud and stumps that ran through his woods. He explained that the power company had asked for permission to put a natural gas line through his property, which he had granted. But they had come back with a request to run a high voltage transmission line--towers and all--straight through his favorite woods. A clear case of "no good deed goes unpunished." He declined their offer.

The power company claimed eminent domain and put in the line anyway. To add insult to injury, they had (he suspected) cut far more trees than they actually needed to. My job was to verify this using none other than the Pythagorean Theorem, and do so in a court of law. I suggested that perhaps a civil engineer would probably know more about trees than I did, but Dr. Moyd assured me that he already had that covered. He just wanted to nail down that one fact for the jury--as asserted by a genuine math PhD--that right triangles still worked the way they ought to.

He showed me the model he had built. It had cute little transmission towers, about 10 inches tall, and "wires" hanging from them. For a while we discussed the details of the problem, and in particular the arc that the wires make when they sag. This is known as a catenery, although it looks like a parabola. It would be absurd to bring such details into any discussion of pine tree heights and electrical lines, though. We conference-called his lawyer. I agreed to do what I could to reinforce the perception of Euclidean geometry on the jury.

A few months later I gave Dr. Moyd a call. I hadn’t heard from him, and assumed he’d given up. No, he assured me—it was still a go. But he didn’t call, and I forgot about it. Until yesterday when I saw the Hartsville paper.

Hartsville physician wins $540,000 verdict against Progress Energy
DARLINGTON — Dr. Pickens Moyd said he hopes a jury’s decision against Progress Energy in a condemnation case involving his family-owned farm sends a message to small landowners around the state to stand up for their rights and for what is fair.
[link to article]

I reckon it's time to present my consulting fee, seeing as how effective I was!


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